Back to the Egg
Released: June 1979
Chart Peak: #8
Weeks Charted: 24
Certified Platinum: 7/18/79
As you may recall the last time we came upon Paul McCartney, pilot of Wings, he'd fashioned a thirteen-song offering called London Town, whose mildly tuneful title track was the epitome of the now-familiar, latter-day McCartney style of songwriting.
Gliding along on the wheels of a catchy little melody, we were scarcely into his pale narrative when McCartney began laying out the limitations of the tale he was to tell. Still, the melody was infectious and the possibilities sufficiently promising, so we went along for the ride on the odd chance of meeting one of those ordinary folks he was crooning about. And, at length, we did -- sort of.
Since his solo debut in 1970 with the casual, albeit totally original McCartney, this ex-Beatle has been lending his truly prodigious talents as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer to some of the laziest records in the history of rock & roll. With the exception of Band on the Run and some relatively cohesive material on Venus and Mars, McCartney's work with Wings has proven to be as scattershot as it is puerile, each abortive rock snippet and silly love song feeding the mounting bewilderment about his direction (or utter lack of it) as an artist. Who, one felt compelled to ask, is in charge here? Back to the Egg provides the final, obvious answer: no one.
Herewith, a sample of the words from the single, "Getting Closer": "I'm getting closer, my Salamander/When will we be there?/Oh no, don't answer." Mercifully, no lyric sheet is provided, but a throwaway scrap (what other kind of McCartney lyric is there?) from the above tune about a "radio playing a song with a point" sets an ironic tone for the entire LP. A veritable slide show of dead-end flights of fancy and yesterday's dross, Back to the Egg doesn't contain one cut that's the least bit fleshed out or brought to any logical conclusion. In place of well-framed songs, we get an irritating display of disjointed images and unfocused musical snapshots. Titles are abundant (fourteen in all), but the content is largely regurgitant. "We're Open Tonight" bears a strong resemblance to London Town's "I'm Carrying," while "Winter Rose/Love Awake" recalls "Power Cut" on Red Rose Speedway. "After the Ball/Million Miles" is the obligatory tip of the McCartney hat to English music-hall tradition, but it's vastly inferior to even such half-baked fluff as Venus and Mars' "You Gave Me the Answer."
The instrumentation on Back to the Egg is so scrambled that any serious criticism would be ridiculous, except to note the much-heralded "Rockestra Theme" (featuring the playing of Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, John Bonham, Gary Brooker, David Gilmour, John Paul Jones, et al.) is a flat affair cooked up around one hackneyed riff. Likewise, the runaway bass that made the disco single, "Goodnight Tonight" (absent from the album), a curiosity is in ample supply here, but not nearly as inventive or powerful. Instead, McCartney just retraces his tired old patterns.
"Arrow through Me" illustrates why Paul McCartney's output is rarely covered anymore by other artists. At first pleasing to the ear, this love lament soon becomes so flaky that no other performer would dare stand naked with it. Indeed, the only track deserving of special mention is Denny Laine's "Again and Again and Again," a somewhat engaging rock segment that could have been built into a comprehensible song. The rest of the record sounds like a rude mixture of subbasement tapes and prose torn at random form the Yellow Pages, interspersed for no discernible reason with -- no kidding -- some spoken excerpts from John Galsworthy's The Little Man and Ian Hay's The Sport of Kings.
In keeping with the fractured nature of Back to the Egg, I offer the reader a multiple-choice ending to this review, with the suggestion that he or she consider combining all of the following:
(A) This album is nothing more than a slipshod demo by an aimless band. If it had arrived unsolicited in the offices of Columbia, it would have been returned in the next mail with a terse "No thank you."
(B) I can think of few other prominent rock rock musicians who'd have signed their names to this kind of drivel. McCartney's gross indulgence is matched only by his shameless indolence, and Back to the Egg represents the public disintegration of a consistently disappointing talent.
(C) Paul McCartney (how does this man sleep?) has been plagiarizing his own material for years now, and he's finally run out of recycled ideas. With a few key word changes, the lyrics that began this piece could end it on an appropriately grim autobiographical note.
(D) Where have you gone, Emmitt Rhodes? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
- Timothy White, Rolling Stone, 8-23-79.
Without the other Beatles, John in particular, to keep him in line, Paul is unbearably cutesie-poo. His lyrics are vapid, his wife is a no-talent, and his melodic gift has all but deserted him unless you really like songs that sound like Lifesaver commercials. The problem is that the guy also has this annoying habit of occasionally throwing into his albums something that really works, something so good that you can't figure out whether he's just gotten lucky or he deliberately grinds out the bad stuff for a market he has shrewdly assessed as being desperate for elevator music. For every triumph like 1974's "Junior's Farm," you have to endure dross like the entirety of last year's London Town, which gets pretty wearing and accounts for the glee with which critics take him apart. Meanwhile, every single not the man records sells in the zillions.
Anyway, as might have been expected, his new Back to the Egg has one really transcendent moment of glory: "Getting Closer," a classic rocker with a soaring melody, energy, sass, magnificent dynamics -- exactly the kind of effortless power pop that in theory McCartney shouldn't be able to pull off any more, old fart that he is. The rest, barring "Rockestra Theme," the loose, splashily entertaining all-star instrumental track that begins side two (featuring, among others, members of the Who, Led Zeppelin, and Elvis Costello's Attractions), is more of the usual emptyheaded whimsical mush. It's all gussied up with a production job that is even more opulent than usual, and there's some singing from the star that, divorced from the material, stacks up as the most technically impressive he's done since Abbey Road. And he did have the sense to leave his recent "disco" single, "Goodnight Tonight," off the record, so perhaps I shouldn't bitch. Hey, nice job, Paul!
- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 9/79.
Whew. Sixteen titles on an untimed LP that must run forty minutes if not fifty -- or seventy-five. When he's on, Paulie's abundant tunefulness passes for generosity. Here he's just hoping something will stick. C
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
No comments so far, be the first to comment.
Main Page | Readers' Favorites | The Classic 500 | Other Seventies Discs | Search The RockSite/The Web